Teaching series from 1 John

Back to Basics

1 John 1:1-4

Teaching t10380


This morning we begin studying 1 John, which is found almost at the end of your Bibles.  Before we plunge into this letter, let’s get some important background information which will help us understand its content and relevance.

Although he doesn’t identify himself, the author is John—the same person who wrote the gospel of John, the other two letters from John, and Revelation.  This is the same John who was one of Jesus’ 12 disciples.  In fact, John was the last living disciple of Jesus when he wrote this letter (probably about 80 years old).

The audience is a group of Christian communities in and around Ephesus (MAP).  Though Paul had planted these churches originally some 30 years earlier, at some point after Paul’s death John moved to Ephesus to serve as a kind of spiritual mentor for these Christian communities.

And they needed John’s spiritual guidance, because they had been spiritually damaged by a group of insidious pseudo-Christian teachers.  These teachers claimed to believe in Jesus—but they had fabricated a different Jesus.  They also claimed to know God through spiritual enlightenment—but the results of this spiritual knowledge belied this claim.  Though they had distanced themselves from these false teachers, they were deeply shaken in their faith: “Who is the real Jesus?  How can we know?  What is spiritual enlightenment? How can we know if we have this?”

You can see how relevant this letter is for us today.  Americans are very interested in Jesus—but also confused about who Jesus really is (DaVinci Code).  Americans are very interested in spirituality and spiritual experience—but also confused about what real spirituality is and how to experience it.  In fact, our culture is permeated by doubt that it is even possible to know if you have the truth about these matters.  John claims to know the truth about these matters, that it is possible for us to know this (read 5:13)—he writes this letter so we can have the assurance of knowing.

John begins his letter by going back to basics about Jesus: who the real Jesus is, why we know this is the truth about Jesus, and what the truth about Jesus makes available to us...

Who the real Jesus is

The false teachers evidently claimed that Jesus was a normal man (coming into existence at birth).  They claimed that “the Christ” came upon Jesus at his baptism to give him secret spiritual knowledge—but departed from him before his death.

Over against this, John describes a very different Jesus:

Jesus didn’t come into existence when he was born.  He “was from the beginning,” he “was with the Father.”  In other words, Jesus has always existed as God—and entered human history through his birth.  Notice how John describes Jesus in the same way in his gospel (Jn.1:1,2,14,18).

Jesus and “the Christ” aren’t two different beings.  Jesus is the Christ (Messiah)—the divine-human King and Savior of humanity that the Old Testament predicted (read Isa.9:6,7).  The Messiah had to be both human and divine in order to forgive our sins by paying for them with his death.  In order to represent us as humans, he had to be truly human.  In order for his death to have infinite value to pay for all of our sins, he had to be divine.

So John claims that Jesus is not merely an enlightened spiritual teacher (as in The DaVinci Code), or even one of many manifestations of God (as in New Age versions of Jesus)—but God-incarnate, the unique Savior of humanity.  But how did John come to this conclusion?  And how can we know that John’s conclusion is true?

Why we know this is the truth about Jesus

Notice the “we”—John claims that he is one of multiple eye-witnesses whose testimony concerning this claim is trustworthy.  You can read John’s detailed eyewitness testimony in the gospel of John.  Here’s the summary:

They “heard” Jesus claim to be God (Jn.5:17,18; 8:48; 10:30).  This is why the Jews tried to stone him.

They “saw” him do works that only God could do—heal the sick, give sight to the blind, and raise the dead—and link these miracles directly to his claims to be God (Jn.5,9,11).

They also “handled” (word stresses prolonged and investigative touch) his body after he was raised from the dead (see Thomas in Jn. 20:24-28).

In other words, we can know that Jesus was God-incarnate, the unique Savior and rightful King of humanity—because John and the other disciples have left this eye-witness testimony about Jesus.  Even the term John uses to describe their “testimony” (martyrion) reminds us that they paid for their testimony with their lives.  (No other religion or spirituality has anything like this.  The Jesus of The DaVinci Code is based on speculation written over 100 years after Jesus walked the earth.)

So Christianity is firmly anchored in the eye-witness accounts of Jesus’ birth and life and death and resurrection.  Anyone who teaches about a different Jesus has departed from true Christianity.  But there is more to Christianity than these historical events.  You can know and believe in all of these historical facts about Jesus and still miss the whole point why he came...

What the truth about Jesus makes available to us

Read 1:3,4.  Notice the shift from the past tenses to the present tenses—from the historical to the contemporary.  Notice the “so that” in 1:3.  Jesus came and died and was raised from the dead in history so that you can experience the priceless gift of spiritual reality.  In fact, John describes this spiritual reality in three ways.

Jesus came so you could have fellowship with him and his Father.  This is the essence and center-piece of spiritual reality—experiencing a personal love relationship with God.  (Though John doesn’t explain here how God does this, he tells us in 3:24b that Jesus’ Spirit comes to live in us when we put our trust in him as our Lord and Savior.  His Spirit enables us to experience God’s love and know Jesus in a personal way.)

I grew up going to a church that was more like a museum.  They talked about Jesus like he was only a long-gone historical figure—not as a contemporary, accessible Person.  I longed for spiritual reality, but I couldn’t find it in what I thought was Christianity—so I left.  I sought spiritual reality by reading philosophy and enlightenment literature, and by taking psychedelic drugs—but I couldn’t find spiritual reality there either.  Then someone told me that Jesus was alive, that he loved me, that I could actually meet him and experience his love for me—and that this relationship would change my life for good.  They showed me Rev. 3:20 (read) and challenged me to open the door of my heart to Jesus and ask him to come in.  I did this one night (explain how)—and the only way I can explain what happened is that it was like coming home.  I know God is real—not primarily because of philosophical proofs, but because I have experienced his love and forgiveness and guidance.  I know Jesus is alive—not primarily because of the historical accuracy of the New Testament, but because I have experienced his transforming presence and power in my life.  Before then, I talked to God as a stranger in formal, memorized words.  After I met Christ, I talked to God as a friend with my own words.

When you forge a relationship with Jesus, something else happens.  You discover that you have a deep spiritual bond with others who also know Jesus.  Have you ever discovered a musical piece that moves you in a very deep way—and then found someone else who has had the same experience with the same piece of music?  You feel a bond because you share the same experience, and you enjoy listening to the music together and trying to talk about how it affects you.  Something like this—but far deeper—happens when you discover spiritual reality through a personal relationship with Jesus.  You are drawn to others who have the same spiritual reality and you delight in sharing it together.  We not only share with one another how Jesus has changed us. We also experience our relationship with Jesus through one another—by talking to him together, and by giving and receiving his love and truth to one another.  This is what “fellowship” is—sharing the life and love of Jesus together.

When you know Jesus, you experience a rich joy in sharing him with other people.  Whether this involves helping those who already know Jesus to know him better (as in 1:4), or (especially) introducing people to Jesus for the first time—there is a joy that is deeper and more invigorating than any other joy. 

I know as I describe this spiritual reality that even though I can’t fully explain it, something deep within you resonates with and wants what I am describing.  Some of you already have this spiritual reality and want to deepen it.  John will show us how to do this in the coming weeks.  But some of you need to lay hold of it for the first time.  Simply call out to Jesus and invite him to come into your heart—and he will give you spiritual reality!